Unreal Nature

August 20, 2016

A Rich and Delirious Landscape

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Everyday life upon the land has evolved a rich and delirious landscape …

This is from the essay ‘Aerial Representation’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

… When one enters a conversation, participates in a dance, or sits to eat with friends, a sense of what constitutes appropriate behavior and response prevails. In philosophical terms, this self-awareness of measure is called “practical wisdom”: one is conscious of the quantities, properties, and limits of one’s being within a particular circumstance, and is aware of how to extend and foster kinship with others. By extending oneself with due measure (which is what ensues in any conversation or dance), one overcomes separation and distance to construct relationship and dialogue.

… In an age of precision and advanced technological resources, people are at once both closer to and more estranged from the earth and one another. On the one hand, standard and universal measures — each mathematically precise beyond any perceptible tolerance of magnitude — have fostered global cooperation and mutual understanding, thereby diminishing the threat of despotic tyranny and misrepresentation while providing new and advanced forms of medicine, communication, and technology.

[line break added] On the other hand, both the uniqueness and relatedness of things and places are objectified and diminished through modern measures, promoting forms of homogeneity and alienation. Just as overspecification and oversimplification are the results of modern measure, so too are freedom and constraint, accessibility and estrangement.

… Of course, the reverse of this situation is that the abstract systems of technology are both resisted and absorbed by prevailing social, cultural, and natural realities. Technological measure itself has no home; it is autonomous and free-wheeling. Yet, when applied, it must always touch down somewhere at some time and must therefore become engaged with the wild forces of place and time.

[line break added] Here, the system will inevitably yield, further thickening and evolving the quarry of cultural and biological life. For example, for all of its assumed monotony, the U.S. Rectangular Survey System is incredibly rich and diverse when experienced firsthand; the land, the passages of time, and the peculiarities of subsequent settlements have resisted and absorbed the ideality of the rational and repetitive scheme — a scheme that, in fact, facilitated fair and accessible opportunity for democratic settlement and land ownership.

[line break added] Although there are places where lines do not quite meet up, where roads are not straight or true, where property lines take strange and irregular turns, and where the rectilinear order breaks down, it is the system that bends — albeit unwittingly. Everyday life upon the land has evolved a rich and delirious landscape, a complex imbroglio of farmsteads, diners, gas stations, crop dusters, motels, floods, tornadoes, baseball, cornfields, towns, hillsides, plains, conversations, arguments, dances, sunrise, snow, and drought.

[line break added] This same richness, accrued through a kind of inevitable errancy, might also describe other technological constructions upon the land. Biosphere 2, in Arizona, for example, is a completely sealed and self-sustaining environment, a mathematically modeled container that continues to fail owing to its incapacity to allow for human desire, error, mischief, and change.

[line break added] Similarly, many large-scale urban planning projects have failed in the twentieth century precisely because of this suppression of the volatile, complex, and unnavigable forces of the inevitably promiscuous city. The techniques and measures of contemporary urban planning are simply incongruent to their object.

Biosphere 2

My most recent previous post from Corner’s book is here.




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